Part 5. A good place for hunting
Next day. Chris was first to wake. He stoked the fire and put water on for coffee and walked outside. He wandered over to the barn to check on the woman, to say sorry. Hed been an unthinking fool yesterday. He wanted to make things right between them. Try to get her to understand he only meant well.
Entering the barn he first noticed the mare was gone. Again! Damn she must have got out in the night. Then he looked round and saw the woman was also gone.
Vin had heard Chris get up and go out. Hed followed his movements gradually waking up. Hed wandered out and was behind Chris now standing by the stall where, last night, shed told him her name. The first sign shed given that shed understood that, maybe, she was safe.
Vin heard Chriss intake of breath and quiet curse. What?
Shes gone, he said finally, sos the mare!
Sos my knife!
Vin had reached for his gunbelt and noticed his knife was missing from its place. Chris turned and they looked at each other. Damn!
In spite of being tired Moon had not slept well that night. She tossed and turned all night, not wanting the nightmares to return and still angry with Chris. In the early hours she decided on a course of action and slept until just before dawn.
She took a blanket and placed it over the mare, looking around she noticed the gunbelt hanging where Vin had left it the night before. She touched the mares leg but decided it was not for her. Taking the knife from its sheath she mounted the mare and rode silently away from the cabin.
By midday she was sure they had not followed. She found herself in a forest with a river running south through it. A good place for hunting. She tied up the mare to a tree and walked in. She found what she needed, strong but thin branches, and quickly set to work. After two hours she had fashioned a bow and two arrows. She worked quickly the way she had been taught by who? She couldnt even find the face in her memory. She used the threads in the shirt she was wearing for the bow and stretched it between both ends. She found some dead birds and plucked the feathers form the tail. In a short split in the end of the arrow she pushed the feathers.
Taking one of the arrows she mounted it against the bowstring and pulled. The bow bent and the tension in the string increased. She released the arrow. It flew off straight and true into a tree. Not great, but it will do, she thought.
Searching round she found rabbit tracks leading to and from a bunch of rabbit holes. Again using threads from the shirt she made a loop and tied the end to a bent branch and waited.
It seemed like hours later, she heard the twang of the branch. She dozed off and woke suddenly at the sound. Looking around she remembered where she was. She went over to the trap and found a buck rabbit with its head in the noose hanging form the branch.
Taking the rabbit down she replaced it hoping to catch another.
Another bow was made, this time with a loose thread wrapped round another twig. She spun the twig in a small branch with the bow and soon it began to smoke. Using dried leaves and small twigs around it she soon had a fire lit with a skinned rabbit cooking over it.
Later she wiped her mouth with the sleeve of the shirt. She had eaten well.
Again she looked round the forest. It was a long time before she found what she was really looking for deer tracks! She found a spot where she could see the river. They would come to drink at the river from their place in north of her position. Judging the direction of the wind she reckoned they would not pick up her scent until they were close.
While she waited she worked on the rabbit skin. Using a wedge of branch she scraped the skin inside and then left it to dry in a sunny spot.
Nothing appeared at the river for the rest of the day but early the next morning, she was awoken by the sound of a buck and two does as they walked confidently to the edge of the river. Luckily the wind was still northerly and she was well hid. Silently, moving slowly she reached for the bow by her side. Once more an arrow was lined up and she took aim.
The buck pricked up his ears. She let loose the first arrow which missed by inches and spooked him but as he turned to run Moon was also rising and setting the arrow in the bow as she ran she fired and hit the buck in the neck knocking him down. Still moving forward now she grabbed the knife from her belt and quickly finished the deed.
Satisfied now, she dragged the buck back to her earlier camp. Another rabbit had been caught so before heading back she cooked and ate it hungrily. Yes a good place for hunting.
Part 6. Done!
For two days the talk between the men lingered around who she was, what she was running from and where shed gone. No saddle had been taken, just a blanket and reins. Vin stayed at the cabin, making an excuse that he wanted time to himself. His friends had seen he was in a thinking mood and accepted it.
Chris decided it was best to get back to town. Hed given the mare to her and he didnt want to go back on that. The knife was a puzzle though. Probably wanted to use it to defend herself, he decided. At least it was a problem that had gone away. Vin wanted to mope about her then that was fine. Hed check on him later.
Nathan too wanted to get back to town. Hed done his best for the woman, it was up to her now to look after herself.
Left alone now, Vin could think. He could follow her. Tracking should be easy. Hed taken Peso out a short way. She was good. Covered her tracks well but there were still signs .if you knew what to look for.
Shed never fully trusted them, maybe she never would, given all the time in the world. He missed her. Missed her face. Missed her presence. Missed her being there. Moon. The name rested easy with him. Her way with the mare was amazing, so gentle, that horse just wanted to be beside her. She deserved the horse.
Hed decided it was time to go back to town but Chris, growing concerned about the tracker, arrived in the evening so they stayed the night at the cabin.
Towns quiet, stage aint due for four days so I thought Id check up on ya, he said as he put his horse in the barn. Ya didnt follow her then?
At first Vin was surprised that Chris understood his thoughts but theyd grown close in the short time theyd known each other. Nah, couldve, but I reckon she never wanted to be here anyhow. Followin her wouldnt have bin right. What would I do if I found her? He didnt say hed wanted to go after her and had missed her more each day. He was still wrestling with his feelings.
Yep, I reckon yer right, Vin
Miss her though. I know I hardly knew her but she kinda grows on ya
Yeh Chris had understood. He had married Sarah after a long courtship but he had known from the start shed be the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. That had been before Now he looked at his friend. That way led to heartbreak, better she was gone now then later he wouldnt miss her more. God he was bitter. Since coming to Four Corners hed been attracted to Mary Travis who ran the local newspapers office. He figured she felt the same but there was never a good time to ..to do what courtship he was too old for that. That way led to problems too, one reason he had kept their friendship as just that, friendship.
Eventually, gradually Chris brought Vin up to date with what had been happening in town. Nathan had delivered the Hansons baby, Buck had been wooing the ladies. Nothin new there!
Ezra was moaning because there was no-one new to take money from. Maybe the stage will bring some rich fella itchin to loose. The both laughed.
JD and Casey had fallen out, a big argument in the middle of town.
Come back to town, Vin, place seems empty without you. Nettie misses you. Chris said hopefully. Vin smiled. That woman will always try to mother me!
Okay, Ill come back.
It was early the next morning, they were saddling up the horses. Peso was restless, hed not been far for a while and was hopping from hoof to hoof ready to feel the wind in his mane. Stand still while I get this girth done! Chris laughed as Vin followed Peso as he moved towards the barn door, trying to get the saddle on. Quit laughin Chris! smiling as he said it. Things were back to normal thought Chris.
They mounted up and headed for town.
About midday, they were in the saloon watching Buck gulp down a plate of stew Inez had made. Six of them were sitting at their usual table. JD had gotten some new wanted posters three days ago and hadnt gotten round to looking at them. He was still smarting from the row hed had with Casey and was keeping out of her way. And out of the way of the others. He knew they would josh him about it.
Nathan and Josiah were eating their stew but Chris and Vin were just watching Buck, open mouthed. He barely came up for breath between spoonfuls.
You hungry, Buck?
Yep! noticing for the first time that they were watching him. Gotta keep my strength up! So many ladies, so little time!
There was a commotion outside. Nothing desperate. The boys knew the sounds of the town and there was no panic that they could hear, just an imperceptible change that only those attuned to it would notice. They all stopped eating, even Buck paused, looking at each other.
What do ya reckon? he said.
They moved as one, hands on guns and looked out the batwing door of the saloon.
Coming up the street was the mare! In front, as before, not leading, just walking a pace ahead, was the woman!
Her eyes moved from side to side searching the faces finally falling on theirs at the saloon.
They moved out when she saw them. She was staring straight into Chriss eyes, uncertain.
Shes come this far. Been to the cabin and found it empty, followed the horses trails to town. This must be Four Corners. She walked proudly on, seeing them at the saloon, ignoring the looks from the townspeople. She knew if shed looked all her resolve would disappear.
Chris moved to the edge. Vin leaned at the back of him. None of them had drawn their guns and had relaxed now that theyd seen what the commotion was about. The townspeople had not seen anything like her before.
Vin felt excitement rise in him. He was pleased to see her but not wanting to show it he assumed his usual pose. He desperately wanted to rush forward and wrap his arms around her. Hed seen more than the others, seen before the others had. Hed seen the buck on the mares back and the rabbit skins hanging round the mares neck. Shes been hunting ..and done well! There was a roughly made bow over her shoulder and a couple of arrows in her hand. There was blood on her clothes JDs clothes he thought and smiled. The blood was old. Must have been the rabbits. Shed fed well on them then. She walked a little uncertain but was that touch of pride in her gait, he thought?
Theyd seen the blood on her clothes and shocked townspeople turned away at the sight.
She stopped in the middle of the street outside the saloon.
This must be the fair maiden that you gentlemen have not stopped talking about. I can see why, but couldnt you have educated her in the dress code?
Chris turned and glared at him. Ezra just shrugged. Vin found the floor suddenly more interesting.
Chris walked forward until he was a couple of paces away looking into her eyes. She almost stepped back so he knew he was close enough for comfort so stopped where he was.
She turned and pulled the buck off the mare. Its for you! Vin had looked up, his mirth forgotten.
JD had come out of the jailhouse and wandered over. A small crowd had gathered and he wanted to see. Geese. Thats a big un!
Its for you, Vin said again, Shes payin you for the mare!
Done! was all he said.
The woman stepped round Chris giving him a wide berth and up to Vin where he was now leaning against a hitching post. He stood up straight as she approached. She reached down to her belt and drew out a knife .his knife. That was what she wanted it for!
He was smiling. His whole face smiled back at her. The blue eyes were smiling at her. She looked uncertain, unsure he wouldnt be angry with her. The smile said it all. It was OK. He put out his hand to accept the knife then withdrew it just as quick.
Keep it! Ever watchful he noticed the look of shame in her face again. Ill have some of that buck in exchange. kay. She nodded, just a little, but she nodded. Okay. She put it back in her belt and returned to the mare as if to mount. Stay! from Vin, To hell with what they thought, he wanted her to stay.
Offer still stands. Stay here, or at my cabin as long as you want. I know youre running from something. Rest up there as long as you want. Chris said to her back.
She paused in her actions, turned and a look of gratitude crossed her face. Okay. She nodded, turned mounted the mare and rode slowly out of town.
There were murmurs as the crowd went slowly back to its business.
Reckon Inez can do something with that, Ez? Josiah broke the silence.
Ezra roused from his thoughts and said. Josiah, my man, that womans culinary skills are second only to mine with cards. I think we shall feast well tonight.
A simple yes would have done, Ez. said Buck.
The English language is wasted on you he joked, why use one word when ten will do if I can pass on my linguistic skills to the uninitiated.
The un what? asked JD.
Forget it! I need a drink!
Now I heard that! said Buck as he dashed for the saloon door. It swung behind him and he and Ezra disappeared inside. Josiah, Nathan and JD, seeing their friends watching the woman, lifted the buck inside the saloon, leaving Chris and Vin outside. The latter was still watching the woman in the distance, heading in the direction of the cabin.
Hey Vin, Chris waved a hand in front of his face. Vins focus changed and he looked back to Chris.
Quite a turn up, huh?
Some woman, huh?
Yeh. Her names Moon.
How dya know that? Chris asked astonished.
She told me
That last night in the barn before she left. She drew a moon in the dirt
Quite a conversationalist arent ya?
Now yre startin to sound like Ezra!
Heaven forbid. They laughed and went into the saloon. Therell be time later to go out and see her at the cabin. Vin was certain she was going there. She had gained some ground with the men and she was going to keep it, for now. Time to finish his meal first. Give her some space.
Part 7. Ya can say that again!
Vin did exactly that. So did the rest of the regulators. He would have liked to go out to the cabin soon after Moon had come back but suspected that she might like to be on her own for a while.
He went out there two days later with Chris. The two men rode up to the cabin but saw no sign of her. The mare was in the corral pacing and whinneying. Moon came out of the cabin having seen them approach.
Vin had been certain she would be there but when he had not seen her straight away he was not so sure. His heart skipped a beat when he saw her. She had some colour in her face, looked refreshed and well.
Moon had left the buck in town with Chris feeling satisfied that the exchange of gifts was done. The mare was hers now. Chris had said she could stay as long as she wanted and the buck also covered that.
When she returned to the cabin shed noticed how untidy it was and how much it really needed attention. She found a bar of soap, washed the blood from herself and her clothes and dried them overnight by the fire. After a good nights rest shed set about clearing up.
After the first days hard work she sat down and thought about what she had done whether they liked it the way it had been. Well if she was going to stay then she could not live like that. She had also thought about how she felt about being there. When she rode out that early morning her first thought had been to get away. Chris had embarrassed her by offering the mare and she had to pay him back but at the same time she wanted to keep running. How could she run if she didnt know where to run to or what she was running from. Often while alone with her thoughts she had tried hard to remember but it would not come. She knew she was scared just being out by herself but she also recalled how she had come to feel safe with these strangers Josiah had told her about them and she believed him. He sounded sincere and they way they had treated her and looked after her made her feel safer than she had felt in such a long time.
The next day she came upon a chest. She opened it and found a variety of mementoes collected, no doubt, by the woman who had kept home before. There were photographs of a wedding. It was Chris in the picture with a beautiful woman, smiling at the camera. He looked younger and happier then. Delving deeper she found a wedding dress, childs clothing, a toy horse, carefully, lovingly carved, scraps of cloth probably saved for a quilt which would never now be stitched together. There was a locket, inside were two locks of hair staring at them for a while Moon decided they might have belonged to the child and ..Chris. Yes it would be his, cut by her outside on a sunny day and gathered up carefully and placed in the locket.
There were books and papers, a land deed, a marriage certificate Christopher Larabee and Sarah Morgan - and a birth certificate Adam Larabee born 8 years earlier. Josiah had told her that Adam and Sarah had died 3 years ago. That meant Adam had been only five when hed died. How sad she thought and began to understand the man.
She returned everything back to the chest just as it was and put it back in the corner where she found it.
By the end of the second day she was satisfied that she could remain at the cabin for a while, perhaps until she could remember where she should be going. If only she could remember!
She was sweeping out the dust through the back door of the cabin and there was cloud of it around her. She heard the sound of the horses approaching the cabin and looked out the window only to see it was Vin and Chris. She was surprised to find herself glad they had come and went out to see them.
They now stood before her and a sudden rush of anxiety hit her. Would Chris approve of the cleaning?
Howdy Moon Vin said cheerily. Moon looked up at him and then at Chris. Vin thought she looked better with maybe, hopefully, just a hint of happiness at seeing them. She was covered with dust and her face was dirty. He grinned at her and reached up to push some hair from her face. She allowed him to do so but there was still that uncertain look in her eyes though. She was still wary of them, wondering if they wanted her to go. Chris showed no emotion but she sensed he was not happy.
They tied up their horses and followed her inside. Chris had a bundle under his arm. He passed it to Moon as he entered.
Mary sent this out. Moon took the package and opened it up. It was a bolt of pale brown cloth. She looked at him gratefully. The shirt she was wearing was unravelling since shed taken threads from it. Chris was looking round the cabin.
He whistled quietly through his lips when he saw what she had done. Bin busy havent ya?
Ya can say that again! Vin had a huge grin on his face and was now leaning by the fireplace.
Chris turned to look at Moon who was standing by the door sheepishly awaiting his appraisal. Chris noticed how unsure she looked and said quickly, Looks better than it has in a long time, Thanks! It had been grudgingly given, she could hear some bitterness in his voice. He glanced over at the chest, it was still in place but he went to inspect it. Once open he checked the content and grunted. This had not gone unnoticed by Vin who watched both the other people in the cabin. He had seen the chest before and knew it belonged to Sarah. He eyed Moon. She looked worried. Had she looked in it? Clearly she had as she was wringing her hands in her shirt.
Chris sat down and began to think about Sarah and how shed kept house for them and how it had almost looked like she had not gone. Vin left him to his thoughts for the time being. He knew hed have to shake his friend out of it later but for now he could let him remember his wife and son.
Hows the mare? he said. Moon and he went out to the corral to look her over. Looks like she needs a run. The mare walked over to Moon, nuzzling her offered hand. That horse just cant stay away from you, can she?
It was a one sided conversation but Vin felt strangely not uncomfortable with it.
There was coffee on the stove so Chris helped himself. He kind of liked Moon being there. It was like there was someone who cared about the place looking after it and he felt he could rely on her but it still did not sit well with him. Sipping his coffee now he looked out of the window at Vin and Moon talking over by the corral. What he saw made him feel uneasy. Talking wasnt the word for it. Vin was talking and Moon was watching him and there was more animation in her face, she was smiling from time to time but only when Vin was not looking.
Vin talked about how hed gotten Peso from his Comanche family. They had broken this fine proud horse for him and they had formed a good partnership.
Just like Josiah had, Vin felt comfortable in the presence of this woman no comments, no conversation, just serene, unconditional acceptance. She was a good, attentive listener. Knowing that she accepted him for the person he was gave him a feeling of contentment. He could be with her for hours.
They stayed the night. Chris went back to town the next day. He wanted Vin to come back, even tried to convince him to leave but he stayed on at the cabin delighting in Moons presence. They rode and exercised the horses. No need to talk, Just be. Vin felt alive. Moon felt safe.
Part 8. Belle Brady!
The next day a wagon arrived at the cabin. Driving the four horses was a man of about 30 with his family, wife and three children. Vin went out to greet them.
Howdy. Yre a bit off the usual route for wagons Vin said.
I know. We got a bit lost. We dropped a wheel two days ago. I had to fix it and the rest couldnt wait. Our train guide said he had to get movin. Said hed have to leave us and keep goin. Had a bit of trouble getting the wagon fixed. We could sure use some water for the horses, then if youll point us in the right direction well be on our way.
No need for that. Set a while and rest up. Them horses could use a break. You bin pushin hard to catch up?
Yeh, had to. Thanks for the offer but you and youre wife dont need us hanging around, Im sure. Vin hadnt heard Moon come out but she was now standing behind him.
Vin was surprised at the reference to Moon. He looked at her and she had her head down and was blushing, bright red.
We cant let you go on and wear them horses down or you aint gonna catch up at all. Unhitch them, we can fix a meal and set you straight. I can ride into town and find out if the wagon trains been through and when.
He looked at Moon to check she was OK with this. She looked back with a little nod of her head and turned to go into the cabin to get some food. Yep, it was OK with her.
Thats mighty kind of you but we dont want to impose. Im Dan Brady he offered his hand and they shook.
Vin, Vin Tanner. Vin touched his hat with two fingers.
Dan turned back to the wagon, This heres my wife, Belle, and the twins are Billy and Joe. Two blond-haired boys of about 10 looked out the front of the wagon, smiling. The young un there is Kyle. He pointed at each child in turn, the youngest, a boy of about 5 sat on his mothers lap, then Dan offered his hand to help Belle climb down. She sat bolt upright in her seat glaring at her husband. No, Dan Brady, shes a savage Indian and I wont get into company with savages. We dont know these people, Dan!
All this was said quietly but Vin could hear. Theres no need to worry maam.
It was clear though that she would not budge and she held her children close. They clearly wanted to get down to explore but one look from her and they sat down again.
Dan looked apologetically at Vin and smiled cautiously. Maybe if you could point us in the direction of the nearest town we can rest up there.
Vin was angry at the suggestion that Moon was a savage and was happy to let them on their way. This is the kind of attitude she and his Indian family faced all the time. Why cant people live in peace? Sure, Four Corners is about 3 miles south of here. Just follow that trail.
Im sure well be just fine, Mr Tanner. Id feel safer near normal people if we really have to stop. She said haughtily.
That woman really had an attitude problem Vin thought. Fine he said.
Dan Brady climbed up on the wagon and drove the horses on to the trail. He tipped his hat and again smiled sorry.
Vin went into the cabin. Moon was standing there looking angry. Shed heard too!
She turned away and left, walking over to the corral. She opened the gate and climbed on the mare unsaddled, no reins, holding the mane and rode out. Vin watched her and felt ashamed. Anger rose up in his belly.
He saddled Peso and went after her. He caught up with her easily, she was not trying to hide and was not travelling fast, just getting the wind in her hair, blowing away the hate they felt.
When she saw him she halted the mare. Im sorry. He saw the tears on her face, from what theyd said or the wind, he couldnt be sure. Some folks aint like them. I lived with Indians and grew up with them. I understand.
Moon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She wouldnt have done anything. She was going along with Vin, offering hospitality, that was what he wanted. It was his place and that was OK. Their words had stung and stirred a snatch of a memory that would not come.
Theyre fools! Vin smiled.
She began a small smile and then in frustration she whooped out loud, not a word, more of a scream, and turned the mare to head back to the cabin. Vin followed and they raced back, laughing.
We ran through the summer fields
Between the earth and sky
Little did we realise
We were flying you and I
It was beautiful, glorious
We were riding on a wave
With foolish hearts and foolish love
We would give ourselves away
Remember how we cried out loud
Heard angry voices shout
I love you as I loved you then
No danger and no doubt
When they got back to the corral she was still smiling. You should smile more, it suits you. Her smile instantly disappeared. Trust me to say the very thing that chases the smile away. She cast down her eyes, turned and left him standing there.
Moon prepared a meal and they both ate hungrily. Vin left later, wanting to find out how Dan Brady and his awful wife had fared in town. As he rode he reflected on that smile and he smiled as he remembered it. She was getting to trust him better. He couldnt get close to her, she was always a few feet from wherever he stood and shed walk a mile to avoid getting closer but they had shared something today and she may not be speaking but her face showed what she was thinking. Vin felt he could read it now.
When Vin arrived in town he found out from Chris, that the wagon train Dan and his family had been travelling with had been attacked by outlaws. Two people had been killed and Josiah was attending to their families. Nathan was busy helping the wounded an old man and a child.
Bad business, Vin said Chris. Theyre gonna need help to get through to their land. They were outside the jailhouse. JD had gone to the telegraph office to pass the news on to the judge.
How many wagons?
Buck is eyeing up the young girls, Ezra is tryin to persuade one or two to part with their money in the saloon but they aint havin any of it. Too shocked.
You come across Dan Brady and his family?
Yep Chris was surprised so Vin told him about their encounter that afternoon.
Moon OK? he asked.
She was mad at first but shes OK now.
Whatd ya do? said Chris but Vin just smiled.
Oh we talked. He replied and left it at that. When they movin out?
Coupla days, maybe Chris said, the horses need a rest and they need to bury their kin. Nathanll let me know how the old man and the kid are in the mornin.
Kay. I think Ill go back to the cabin and tell Moon well be gone a while.
Sos she dont worry Vin said simply.
You getting that close?
Yeh I think so. She dont let me get near and she still aint spoken but she trusts me more now. I kinda like bein in her company. Shes . He searched for the word, ..different. Gentle like.
Yeh, Josiah said the same thing. You watch yer back.
Whats that sposed t mean. Vin was instantly on guard after the remarks this afternoon. You dont trust her?
Its you I dont trust! Yer heart is leading ya down a path yer head aint ready fer. It was the best way he could say it and he wasnt sure it came out right.
I know what Im doin Chris. I think she has gotta have some time to sort things out in her head so she can move on. I just want to help, thasall. Or was it? Now it had been pointed out to him he was not sure if he was trying to help her or if she was actually helping him, to be at peace, to find himself. All the talking hed done with her, it was all the things he could not say to the guys, or anyone else and it was a release. He liked her liked being with her .looked forward to being with her .a lot.
On the way back to the stables he met Dan Brady.
Im real sorry about what Belle said. She dont want to come out here, Says its too dangerous with all them Indians about. Heard too much about it back east. It kinda spoiled it for her. Yer wife Ok?
She aint my wife. Just a .friend. It was hard to say and hed had to think for a moment about what exactly she was to him.
Appreciate the help you gave us anyway Dan sounded embarrassed, wanting to change the subject and to get away.
Sa good job ya stopped and met up with the others.
Dan, relieved, said, Sure is, but now Belle dont want to go no further. Wants to go back but wed have to do it on our own and she says she aint stayin here so well go on. He bit his tongue, damn, back to the awkward subject.
Well good luck. Looks like youll have company though. Were comin with ya to protect ya. Vin let him off lightly. He was still trying to figure how he felt about Moon.
Yeh, see what yer wife thinks about that! A bunch of desperados ridin alongside, thought Vin. Dan was moving off down the street now, to tell his wife no doubt, or would he keep it from her? No matter.
He rode back to the cabin put Peso in the barn and slept there himself.
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